The way Pat Rasmussen saw it back in 1973, "We could have a pretty good party for 50 dollars."
That was the prize for the Homecoming talent contest. The idea spawned a '50s band, Clutch and the Shifters. They won that contest - "I don't remember if we had a party or not," he said - which led to some local gigs, which led to the group being signed by a talent agency, which led to a two-year tour across the country, which led, eventually, to the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame.
Clutch and the Shifters will be playing at a 40th reunion concert at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4 at Shay's, in the Marshall Ramada. Three of the originals will be there - Rasmussen, and Lee and Don Kanten.
Rasmussen started his SMSU journey in 1968, when the school was just a year old. He's from Jackson and was impressed when he saw a performance of the Heartland Players, a grant-funded touring group of Guthrie Theater performers based out of SMSU.
"I was a senior in high school, and I thought, 'This has got to be a pretty cool place to go.' A couple of us went up, met the technical director, and that was it. It was a great decision, the staff was amazing, they taught us every aspect of theater. There were only two classes then, sophomores and freshmen. You got to know people, and you got to know your professors. You learned a lot sitting in their offices and listening to their stories."
He was drafted at the start of 1970 and served until the end of 1972, when he returned to SMSU. He left with the band to tour in 1974 and returned in the fall of 1976. He graduated in 1977 with a theater degree.
The original band members include Gary Peterson, Fairmont; Isiah Whitlock, South Bend, Ind.; Jerry Lindberg, North St. Paul; Lee and Don Kanten, Ortonville; Joe Keyes, Pipestone; Keith Hocking, Ellsworth; and Rasmussen. Whitlock - today a successful actor on the big and small screen - left shortly after the group started to concentrate on theater. Chris Nolte, Fairmont, had a short stint with the band, also.
The members were theater, music and TV/radio majors.
"Because so many had a theater background, we were really a show band. We'd have comic routines, choreography. At times there was more to the performance than the music. We were very visual," said Rasmussen.
The group highlighted what was billed as Marshall's first rock concert, back in the spring of 1974. It was on Mother's Day and was called the Woodtick Festival of Peace, Love and Mothers. Four other bands joined the Shifters that day at Liberty Park.
The band disbanded after a year or so because of graduations and other life commitments.
"Joe and I were the only ones left in school," said Rasmussen, a junior when the band formed. A phone call from the others, reminiscent of the Blues Brothers reunion, indicated the rest of the band members missed the fun. "We got a call from the guys saying they wanted to get the band back together. We met at Williams Pub in the Twin Cities, and that was that. At that point everyone moved back to Marshall. It's where we could rehearse and live the cheapest."
They somehow finagled a residence hall room on campus to rehearse and were on their way. Alpha Productions signed the group and did its bookings, and the band hit the road in the fall of 1974 on a tour that lasted until late summer, 1976.
"We toured in a school bus that was outfitted to hold our equipment. It had bunks, and we went from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Little Rock, Arkansas, to Daytona Beach and Orlando, Florida, out to Denver. All over the Upper Midwest. We played a lot of ballrooms -Superior, Hudson, Fort Dodge, Ames, Aberdeen, St. Cloud. We had one tour that lasted five weeks, and I saw my apartment for three hours."
Gas stations back then weren't like they are today.
"There were no cell phones. We'd go in and get soy hamburgers and microwave them. When you're in your 20s, it's good. Traveling was one of the fun parts. There were seven of us, basically, at any given time. We became best friends," he said.
Joe Keyes was Clutch, "He started it all," said Rasmussen. They did three songs to win the talent contest in '73, then were approached by management at Earth II, now Pappy's, to do a show.
"We had three songs, so we rehearsed for two weeks and came up with three hours worth of material. We performed two nights to standing room only. The balcony was open at that time, and the dance floor was lit. It was like a 'Saturday Night Fever' thing," he said.
Their repertoire included Dion and the Belmonts, Little Richard, Elvis, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, "those types of bands," he said. "Basically it was three front men and four musicians."
Rasmussen lives in Owatonna and has been with Josten's for two years now. He was the manager of the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center in Albert Lea for nine years. He is married to Connie (Scott), "and between us we have five children and nine grandkids," he said.
He's still somewhat amazed at how the Clutch saga played out.
"We thought we'd win the talent show, have a party, and that would be the beginning and end of it. It blossomed out of nothing," he said.